Soft Luggage Security

December 14, 2016

One of the questions we get the most about soft luggage is: how do I lock it?

I’ve traveled a bunch internationally and in the US with soft luggage, never had it locked, and knock on wood, never had anything stolen (well, not off the bike anyway). In other countries, I only stop at stores/restaurants where I can see my bike outside. At banks, hotels, and tourist spots, I ask a guard to keep an eye on my stuff. That, or I leave my gear at a hotel and only take the bike. I’d do the same thing if I had hard boxes. On local trips here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re traveling on dirt roads and stopping in small towns, so theft isn’t an issue. Most of the time, I’m not too worried about locks.

In a parking lot at a big store in an urban area, however, sometimes I wish I had a lock. And also at border crossings, where it’s ‘supposed’ to be guarded, there’s always shifty characters hanging around. Like last winter in Togo, Josh and I were keeping a close eye on our bags at a border crossing, and someone still managed to open two buckles on my pannier. Fortunately they didn’t get inside. I’ve met a few people who’ve had their tank bags snatched though, so it definitely happens.

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With a little time and the right tools, a determined thief’s going to get into any kind of luggage, whether its made from fabric or steel. My old aluminum panniers could be easily opened with a screwdriver or hammer. With soft luggage, someone could theoretically cut their way in, although I don’t think it happens as much as people think. Bag-slashing seems better suited to light-duty bags being carried in crowded public places: backpacks, handbags, stuff like that. It’s another version of pickpocketing: stealthy, fast. I’ve tried to get into our bags with a knife (see video below) and it wasn’t easy. The contents don’t just spill out everywhere after a quick slash. It takes some work. The materials we use, like hypalon, ballistic nylon, and vinyl, require significant sawing, especially when layered on top of each other.

The goals of a soft luggage security system are to a) provide an obvious and visible deterrent, b) stop someone from grabbing the bag and running, and c) ensure that a thief will have to cause a bit of a scene if he/she wants in. We’ve had our eye on a couple different solutions for a while, like the Masterlock Python sliding lock, and Pacsafe Mesh. These solutions work, but each has some significant disadvantages. A few months ago, a customer suggested Steelcore Locking Straps. They have a locking aluminum cam buckle, with braided steel cable encased in heavy duty webbing. They’re significantly harder to cut than steel cable alone, because clippers can’t get a good grip on the webbing.

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Here’s a couple videos of people testing them.

Compared to a typical sliding lock, the Steelcore Locking Straps are a lot easier to cinch tightly due to the unique cam buckle. These straps are normally used on surfboards, kayaks, spa covers, lifeboats, and other stuff like that. We tried them on our bags, and they work great. When they’re correctly looped through a luggage rack and cinched tightly around the bags, they a) lock the roll top closed and b) lock the bag to the bike so it can’t be snatched.

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The Steelcore straps work best on the Backcountry Panniers, Backcountry Duffle, Scout Pannier, Scout Duffle, and Reckless 80. They can also be used on the Reckless 40, but it’s not as secure because the leg bags are so narrow on the R40. Here’s a guide to match straps with bags:

– Backcountry 25/35L Pannier Kit: Two 4.5′ Straps

– Backcountry 30/40L Duffle: One 6′ Strap

– Scout 25L Pannier Kit: Two 4.5′ Straps

– Scout 25/60L Duffle: One 4.5′ Strap

– Reckless 80: Four 4.5′ Straps (two for center duffle, one for each side bag)

We made these quick & dirty videos to demonstrate.

Stoked to finally have a realistic security solution! Ash and I will take the Steelcore straps to Sri Lanka this winter with our Reckless 80s. I’ll report back with more details after that.

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